Reunion offers an incredibly diverse range of fruits and vegetables, some of which are regularly found on the mainland, while others are frankly surprising, although always delicious. Found in the local specialities, both sweet and savoury, they offer a new and incomparable freshness and flavour.
We might as well admit it from the outset: if you want to be able to taste all of the flavours offered by the vegetable plots and orchards on Reunion Island, a long stay will be required. And if you are visiting as a family, this is a chance to show the kids that eating five fruits and vegetables per day can be quite the feast! So, let's take our seats around the table...
In the Reunion Island fruit hall of fame one can find Victoria pineapple, named in honour of the Queen of the same name who, it seemed, was extremely fond of it. Introduced to the island in 1668, the Victoria pineapple earned Label rouge certification in 2006, a guarantee of its quality. This is a pineapple that is much smaller and more perfumed than the Cayenne of the Ivory Coast or United States: once you have tasted it, there is nothing else you will want! Often found in the markets (although the majority of fruits produced in Reunion are shipped to mainland France), the Victoria is best eaten just as it is.
The banana is also delicious, or rather the bananas, on account of the many varieties. So too as mangoes, of which 50 varieties are found on Reunion Island! The residents prefer grafted mangoes: the José mango is a particular favourite. Depending on the texture and the sugar content, some varieties are used as sweet ingredient and others as a savoury ingredient, for example to sweeten a chilli rougail as an accompaniment to cari (curry).
From December until the end of January, both the market stalls and the mobile street vendors offer an array of branches heavily laden with lychees - juicy, perfumed, sweet... a real treat! The longani, which resembles the lychee, is also a favourite. Among the local specialities, one could also mention the ti'jaques, derived from the French term jacquier, for jackfruit, which is chopped or grated so as to serve as the base for a curry; the papaya (green in colour, it is cooked like a vegetable when ripe, although it tastes like a fruit); the tamarind, which is used to make jam; the goyavier [strawberry guava] (not to be confused with the goyave [a regular guava]), which is about the size of a strawberry and has sweet flesh. And finally, do not hesitate to try the anone [soursop]. This large fruit with a creamy flesh comes in a certain variety called Coeur-de-Boeuf [literally 'ox heart'] which has one unique feature: its tree which is slow to produce fruit naturally sees a much increased yield when manual pollination is carried out. Quite simply, this entails a few strokes with a brush on the inside of the flowers, which bring the pollen into contact with the stamens... a method inspired by that performed on the flowers of the vanilla plant. And this is how in place of a single fruit, the tree comes to produce bunches of soursop that can weigh up to one kilo!
Visitors to the markets, quite rightly, taken aback by the size of the avocados, which are no less impressive (nothing like those that you can buy on the mainland!): the avocado tree is commonplace in the gardens... however, in Reunion the king of vegetables is first and foremost the chouchou [chayote]! A type of enormous pear with large veins, it is similar in flavour to the courgette and is used in cari-chouchou (chayote curry), with a cheese topping, in salads... Tomatoes, the essential ingredient of the cari are indeed widespread, as are pumpkins, which are also served both sweet and savoury. Cassava and sweet potatoes are used as a base for flans, fritters or cakes, while the cucumber is served in salad... with spices. There are also are a tremendous number of brèdes [greens], that is, leaves that are used in daily cooking. Cooked similarly to spinach, they are an essential accompaniment to the cari. Finally, in Cilaos, in addition to wine and dentilles (paper-thin biscuits), there are a variety of delicious lentils that, once cooked, are transformed into a savoury cream with a delicate flavour. The mere mention of these many competing fragrances, colours and strong flavours is to note that, on Reunion Island, fruit and vegetable lovers will have found their paradise...